ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
Democrat Jennifer Migliore and Republican State Rep. Donald Wong answer questions at the Daily Item-sponsored state rep forum at Saugus Town Hall auditorium on Thursday. (Check back with the Item for a video recording of the debate).
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — At Thursday night’s debate between State Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) and challenger Jennifer Migliore, the candidates faced off with just days until election day.
Supporters filled the Town Hall Auditorium, Wong supporters wearing T-shirts that read “So Wong, it’s right” and Migliore fans came equipped with cow bells for a more boisterous applause. Hosted by the Item, the forum offered candidates the opportunity to sound off on everything from experience to Wheelabrator Saugus to their views on the ballot questions and presidential candidates.
“Please consider my opponent’s background,” said Wong, who added that Migliore’s includes playing softball and being a staff member for a politician. “She has no experience working with any budget other than her own. I pay taxes. I balance budgets. I have a track record of proven leadership. I have a 100 percent voting record at the State House. I cross party lines for the best results.”
But in working with U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who she said was also new to his position at the time, Migliore said she got extensive experience helping veterans and families, like those who live in the district.
“I’m 25 years old and I’m proud of the experience that I have,” Migliore said. “I started working for a freshman congressman. We solved over 800 constituent cases. I worked for a freshman and we got an incredible amount of work done. Don’t tell me that being a freshman is a negative thing. I view it as a positive thing. We need new blood, new energy, new ideas.”
The two candidates vying for the seat Wong has held since 2011 took the opportunity to hold each other’s feet to the fire with each rebuttal.
Wong, 64, served on Saugus Town Meeting and the Board of Selectmen. He has lived in Saugus for 40 years and is a third generation business owner of the Kowloon Restaurant on Route 1.
Migliore is a Saugus native. In her former job as a district representative for Moulton, she served as a liaison to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The 9th Essex District encompasses precincts 1, 2, 4-9 in Saugus; precincts 1, 2, 3 and 7 in Wakefield; and Ward 1 precincts 1 and 2 in Lynn.
When asked about what they did to try to prevent the closure of Union Hospital, Wong said he was the first official to talk to the attorney general about saving it. He hopes to see the building used as a veterans hospital and for emergency services. Migliore said she attended Save Union Hospital meetings and worked with Sen. Thomas McGee and state representatives Dan Cahill and Brendan Crighton, all of whom have endorsed her.
Migliore said part of the reason she is running is she is not satisfied with the job Wong has done.
“We need a state rep that is focused on Beacon Hill, instead of Saugus politics,” she said. “Donald Wong was heavily involved in the recall (election of the Board of Selectmen). There is clearly a divide between current Board of Selectmen and Donald Wong.”
But Wong argued that he supports all local officials in Saugus and that nothing would get done if both parties didn’t work together.
“The recall was over a year-and-a-half ago,” said Wong. “We need to move on. There is an open line between my office and the town manager, I’m always available to the officials.”
Both candidates said residents’ health comes before money when asked about the financial contributions Wheelabrator Saugus makes to the town.
Wong said the most recent study found there were no adverse health effects as a result of the facility’s operations, but added that other reports have shown mixed results. He wants to look at the big picture and get to the root cause of common health problems, including plane fumes, General Electric, Wheelabrator and other pollutants.
Migliore called the number of miscarriages and residents suffering from cancer “uncanny,” adding that if she held Wong’s seat, she would have co-sponsored Rep. RoseLee Vincent’s bill opposing an expansion to the ash landfill.
“They pay less than $100,000 in taxes for a very large area,” she said. “I do not see $100,000 as making or breaking the town budget.”
Both were against the legalization of the sale and use of recreational marijuana and funding for additional charter schools. Migliore said she supports her party’s candidate for president; Wong only said he is disappointed with his choices.
The debate was moderated by Item News Editor Thor Jourgensen.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.